Movement Patterns

power clean with barbell

Weightlifting developed as an activity almost exclusively performed by men. And they used it primarily for developing their physiques. This led to competitive bodybuilding (and steroid use, but that's another story) and various types of physique competitions (including women's).

Because of this background, resistance training became closely associated with muscular development so it's no surprise that training plans were built around muscle groups. There are different splits that people use but some common ones include back and bis (biceps), chest and tris (triceps), shoulders, and the infamous "leg day." There are many such "training splits" in use and much debate about which is best.

But there's another approach besides training muscle groups and it's the one used by StrongFast Fitness: training movement patterns.

At StrongFast, we use just four fundamental movement patterns:

  • Push (upper body)
  • Pull (upper body)
  • Squat
  • Hinge

There can certainly be a correlation between muscles and movements. For example, "back and bis" involve mostly pulling whilst "chest and tris" involve mostly pushing. But there is definitely a difference in the training approach between the two. For one thing, the movement patterns always involve compound exercises (using two or more muscle groups).

First, let's look at the four fundamental movement patterns in more detail.


Weighted vest push-up

This refers to the upper body only, so something like a leg press would not belong here. We divide pushing into two categories:

Horizontal Familiar examples of this include the bench press and pushups. There are, of course, many variations of both those exercises plus other similar exercises. However, if an exercise is focused on a single muscle group, we don't include it in the fundamental pushing pattern. For example, close grip bench press or diamond pushups would not go here.

Vertical The most common example of this is the overhead press. This could be with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, resistance band, etc. But in addition to pushing up, pushing down goes here; for example, dips. As above, exercises targeting a specific muscle group don't go here. For example, triceps extensions.

As with other movement patterns, not everything fits neatly into one category. For example, the incline bench press might be closer to horizontal or closer to vertical. It's not a big deal and is easy to integrate into a training program. In general, don't fret about this sort of thing.


As with push, this refers to the upper body only. Also like pushing, we divide pullling into two categories:

Horizontal Examples of this include bent-over rowing and the inverted row.

Vertical The most common example here is the pullup and its variations. Lat pulldowns go here, too. Unlike vertical pushing which could be up (overhead press) or down (dip), pulling is only down.


Sitting in a chair involves doing a kind of squat.

This is as fundamental as it gets. The many variations of squat exercises are the obvious examples here. Some people categorize single-leg exercises such as lunges or split squats into a separate movement pattern but we don't.

The leg press machine would go here too since it's the same movement pattern but performed whilst seated. I'm not a fan of the exercise (stand up, dammit!) but it would go here.


This refers to the hip hinging movement seen most clearly in deadlifts. There are variations of deadlifts, of course, including some that don't involve taking the weight off the floor. For example, rack pulls or Romanian deadlifts. Those can be considered more purely hip hinging motions whereas pulls from the floor involve the legs more.

Indeed, there is sometimes debate about whether an exercise is a squat or a hinge. My rule of thumb is that if the weight is in front of your center of mass (CoM), as with a deadlift, it's a hinge. If it's in line with your CoM, as with back squats, it's a squat.

Just like the incline bench press blurs the line between vertical and horizontal pushing, some exercises can blur the line between squat and hinge. A good example is the trap bar deadlift. It has "deadlift" in its name but according to my rule of thumb, it's a squat. Some people even call it a "trap bar squat." Again, it's no big deal. Personally, I treat them as hinges but in a well-rounded program, it's not going to matter much.

Coach Dan John includes "loaded carries" as another movement pattern. As mentioned earlier, some include "single leg" or "lunge" as a pattern. Some include "twist" as a pattern. Some include "combination." I'm sure there are others. At StrongFast we keep it simple and just use the four fundamental patterns above. We can still do lunges (which I would put under "squat"), twists, carries, isolation exercises (e.g. curls), etc. But we always make sure to hit the big four.

It's definitely a different training mindset from the muscle split folks, but it's the way we do things here.

Be seeing you.


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